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Opening statement by H.E. Mr. Sven Jürgenson, Permanent Representative of Estonia to the UN in his capacity as President of the UNICEF Executive Board


UNICEF Executive Board
Second regular session 14-16 September 2016

Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen, I call to order the second regular session of 2016 and extend a warm welcome to you all. Please allow me to acknowledge the Permanent Representatives and the other high-level officials who have travelled to New York from their capitals. I would also like to welcome Ms. Maria Calivis, who was recently appointed to serve as the interim Deputy Executive Director, Programmes.

Ladies and Gentlemen, as we approach the first anniversary of the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, we begin the year-long process of developing the next UNICEF strategic plan, which will determine the focus of the organization for the rest of this decade and beyond. Shaped by the Sustainable Development Goals and the lessons learned from the midterm review, the Strategic Plan, 2018-2021 must also be responsive to such emerging issues as climate change, the refugee and migrant crisis, the prolongation of humanitarian emergencies and increasing urbanization and inequity. Over the coming year, the Executive Board will consult with many actors, each bringing a unique perspective to the issues of children, from Member States and development partners, civil society and private sector entities, to National Committees, other United Nations funds and programmes and UNICEF staff. The consultations will include, most importantly, children and adolescents, who, as we learned nearly 15 years ago at the Special Session on Children, are the best reporters of their own needs and aspirations. Many creative minds and novel ideas – and the courage to try them – must coalesce if we are to accomplish the laudable goals for children set out in the 2030 Agenda.

Crucial to shaping the new strategic plan are the discussions that have been taking place around the quadrennial comprehensive policy review. UNICEF has been enriching those discussions with its perspective born of long experience with cross-cutting issues in both humanitarian and development settings, and, increasingly, in contexts that combine the two, and its focus on reaching every child, no matter where they are. To succeed in the urgent task of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, the impact of available resources must be maximized. UNICEF is urging the creation of efficiencies through increased collaboration and coordination among country offices and United Nations entities and heightened transparency throughout the United Nations system. Perhaps most importantly, UNICEF is calling for coherence across development and humanitarian action in support of resilient development and sustainable peace. 

Ladies and Gentlemen, over the past year, we have seen a humanitarian crisis of a magnitude that has strained the ability of Governments and aid organizations to respond. The needs of the millions of refugees and migrants fleeing war, poverty, oppression or the ravages of climate change are complex and overwhelming. UNICEF is to be commended for the valiant efforts it has made on behalf of the millions of displaced children, many of them unaccompanied, from setting up safe spaces along migration routes in Europe to providing food, water, shelter, health care and educational services in refugee camps, and, not least, for helping to draw the attention of the world to the impact of this disaster on children. But much, much more needs to be done. We must be bold enough try new, imaginative approaches, collaborative enough to develop synergies between the many disconnected attempts to remedy this unprecedented situation. And it is high time for Governments to say “enough” to the ongoing suffering of millions and to back up the statement with action.

I would like to highlight a critical gathering focused on children in the refugee and migrant crisis: on Sunday, 18 September, the President of Estonia, H.E. Mr. Toomas Hendrik Ilves, will be hosting, together with Mr. Thorbjorn Jagland, Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Mr. Anthony Lake, Executive Director of UNICEF, and Ms. Caryl Stern, President of the US Fund for UNICEF, a high-level event followed by a vigil, both  aimed at raising global awareness about the plight of refugee and migrant children and strategically timed to take place the day before the United Nations Summit for Refugees and Migrants, the first such summit at the Head-of-State and Government level. I urge all of you to take the opportunity presented by this event for children to forcefully advocate for the needs of the millions of desperate children caught up in the refugee and migrant tragedy. They are counting on you to represent them.

But let us not forget the millions of children trapped in conflict situations who are unable to flee. In the Syrian Arab Republic, Yemen and elsewhere, children are being killed by indiscriminate bombardments, with survivors left deeply traumatized and often maimed. In Africa and the Middle East, children are being terrorized by horrific violence and abuse, including sexual abuse, as well as by abduction, exploitation and recruitment into armed groups, even forced with increasing frequency to carry out suicide attacks. Hospitals and schools are being targeted with frightening regularity in many countries, threatening children’s lives and interrupting their education. One recent casualty was a school for girls in Aleppo, built by UNICEF in 2013, that was a treasured refuge for internally displaced children and their families. The consequences of conflict for children are deep and multifaceted: witness the resurgence of polio in areas of Nigeria that became inaccessible to health workers, a tragic development for a nation so close to being declared polio-free. UNICEF and all Member States must continue to advocate fiercely for the protection of children in conflict situations. These children, indeed, are among the most disadvantaged.
Crucially, the very concept of “disadvantaged” has continued to be the subject of many discussions among Board members this year, taking on new meaning and significance as we wrestled with the issue of where UNICEF should focus its work. The idea has been growing that the category of “fragile contexts” is more relevant than that of “fragile countries,” especially in terms of equity as well as the universality that is emphasized in the Sustainable Development Goals. There are children in every country, including high-income-countries, who are victims of poverty, hunger, malnutrition or violence or who lack adequate health care or educational opportunities. Much of the debate has revolved around when, where and why it is appropriate for UNICEF to spend its limited resources.

At this session, we will consider the review of the UNICEF experience in high-income countries and in countries transitioning from upper-middle-income to high-income status. The review found that Governments in high-income countries welcome the work of UNICEF to improve the well-being of their country’s children, and that such recognition helps to generate funds that exceed the cost of programming and advocacy in those countries. This surplus can then fund the work of UNICEF in countries in which fundraising is more difficult. And considering the increasing number of problems that know no borders, whether climate change, emerging diseases, trafficking in children, online risks for children or the growing number of migrants and refugees, UNICEF should prioritize working in partnership with National Committees in higher-income countries on model solutions that can also help countries with fewer resources.

Ultimately, we must ask ourselves, what is the role of UNICEF? How can it best fulfill its mandate? Does a child deprived of food in Europe feel any less hungry than a hungry child in sub-Saharan Africa? UNICEF should not be in the business of making such distinctions.  Guided by the ambitious and hopeful vision of the 2030 Agenda and the solemn promise to leave no child behind, we must commit to identifying every disadvantaged child in every country and devising effective strategies for reaching them.
Over the next two days, we will consider 23 country programme documents as well as two multi-country programme documents. The countries involved highlight the wide variety of regions and contexts in which UNICEF works, and while the issues regarding children in each country share commonalities, there are also concerns specific to countries or regions, which the UNICEF country offices work with Governments to address. Such specificity is another reason that UNICEF should maintain an active presence everywhere that it is needed and welcomed.

 As we all know, the important work that UNICEF does around the globe requires resources, especially regular resources – the non-earmarked funds that enable it to respond adequately to evolving needs in a flexible and effective manner. The good news is that end-of-year figures for 2016 are expected to show an increase in regular resources, thanks to a focus on growing revenue from pledge donors and expanding legacy funding. This is a welcome turn-around from the decrease in regular resources in 2015. In addition, joint discussions around cost recovery have been aimed at ensuring the full availability of such funds. And as UNICEF looks ahead to increasing programmatic cooperation with the private sector, private fundraising and partnerships promise to be increasingly important sources of both revenue and influence for children’s rights. It is encouraging that in 2015, private sector fundraising through UNICEF offices in middle- and high-income programme countries was 26 per cent higher than in 2014.

Ladies and Gentleman, this session is the last over which I am presiding as President. I would like to pay tribute to all those with whom I have collaborated over the past year. First and foremost, I would like to acknowledge the visionary leadership and dedication of Mr. Lake. He has consistently reminded us that the principal, and indeed the only, reason for the existence of UNICEF is the world’s children. Amidst reports of budget and fundraising shortfalls and debate over where and how UNICEF should work, Mr. Lake, time and time again, has brought the discussion back to the essential: the millions of children who depend upon UNICEF to help guarantee their right to be safe, nourished, healthy and educated.

UNICEF could not achieve its goals without the expertise of the Deputy Executive Directors. I am deeply appreciative of the positive collaboration that the Bureau and the Executive Board have had with them.

I thank my fellow Bureau members and all the members of the Executive Board who have served with me. I applaud your dedication to the pressing issues of children, the seriousness with which you have fulfilled your duties and the mutual respect that you brought to our discussions. Your productive participation in the field visits to Argentina and Côte d’Ivoire and the joint field visit to Kyrgyzstan, and the experiences that you brought back from the field, have helped to communicate to Member States the importance of the work that UNICEF does for children in so many different contexts around the world.

My heartfelt thanks also go to the Secretary of the Executive Board, Mr. Nicolas Pron, and the Assistant Secretary, Mr. Gilles Fagninou, and to their team who facilitate the excellent working relationship between UNICEF and its Executive Board. And my appreciation to the United Nations Conference Services, interpreters and others who have so expertly ensured the smooth operation of the Board sessions over the past year.

I would also like to congratulate the Innovation Division for its recent CIO Award, given for the delivery of measurable impact and value through the innovative use of information technology. UNICEF was recognized for its use of new technologies in the service of protecting children’s rights. Its prescient investment in developing the open-source RapidPro platform, which enables the easy development of context-specific messaging software, continues to yield impressive returns, including helping Uganda to increase immunization coverage, cutting delays in the registration of children in Cambodia, enabling Peruvian children to get to school and informing mothers in Zimbabwe of the HIV status of their newborns more quickly, a critical step in preventing mother-to-child transmission. Such groundbreaking efforts offer new hope for solving intractable problems that affect children and their families around the world.

I would like to close by expressing what an honour it has been for me to serve as the President of the Executive Board over the past year and how encouraged I am by the progress the Board has made in its quest to ensure that UNICEF remains effective and relevant.

This December, we will commemorate the 70th anniversary of the founding of UNICEF. Over the course of those 70 years, countless children have been helped towards a better future by the capable and committed people who make up this great organization. My respect has only grown for the UNICEF staff all over the world, so many of whom put their lives on the line day after day to help children in unimaginably dreadful situations. To them I express my deepest admiration. When I step down from this position at the end of the year, it will be with great hope, and also confidence, that UNICEF will stay strong in its commitment to carry out its mandate: to protect the rights of children everywhere, especially the most disadvantaged, helping to forge a better world for all people.


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